Thursday, April 02, 2015

Can A Kosher Caterer Refuse To Serve Ham? Bad Analogy

Here's the letter to the editor in the LA Times today:

To the editor: A Christian couple have the right serve ham at their wedding reception, but shouldn't a kosher caterer have the right — on religious grounds — to decline their business?
Chris Norby, Fullerton
 This letter is in response to the backlash against the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Because of the strong backlash, it's clear people understand what was wrong with the law passed and signed last week.  But I also recognize that some Christians still don't get it.  And I can understand that someone who is strongly opposed to gay marriage and thinks that opposition is based on the bible (rather than an interpretation of the bible, or the use of the bible to justify a personal bias), would feel that having to celebrate a gay union by taking good photographs or by baking a cake for the wedding would be a compromise of values. 

I would not like to be the photographer who is hired to make the Ku Klux Klan look warm and fuzzy. 

And I've written about this conflict when it was an issue in Arizona.  and raised a lot of the contextual issues.     

In the case of this letter to the editor, we can focus more narrowly on this false analogy.  The two situations just aren't the same.  

A wedding photographer is asked to take pictures at a wedding, exactly the same thing he does at any other wedding.  What's different is that the couple he's taking pictures of are the same gender. He's not being asked to marry another man or even to hold hands with another man.  He's not being asked to do anything at all that could be construed as having sex with someone of the same gender.  Christianity has many prescriptions and prohibitions, but many Christians agree that the golden rule is a key concept in Christianity.  It doesn't say, treat good people like you would have others treat you. 

So, a wedding photographer, is being asked to do what he does for a living - take pictures at a wedding.  In taking pictures at a gay wedding, the photographer takes pictures like he would at any other wedding, plus, if the photographer is uncomfortable or even hates lgbt folks, he has the opportunity to follow the golden rule, indeed, to follow Matthew's even more relevant words, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

On the other hand, kosher caterers, never serve pork.  So, to ask a kosher caterer to serve pork, would be to ask him to do something he doesn't do in the course of his business.  He doesn't serve pork to anyone.  Similarly,  professional photographer who never  does weddings, could easily turn down a request from a gay couple to photograph their wedding without it being discrimination.  He doesn't even need a religious reason. 

The point is, if you offer services to the public, you can't refuse those services to someone except for legitimate business reasons - they can't pay, they are disturbing other clients, they are asking for services you don't normally provide, they are underage for the service you provide, or other personal issues about specific individuals that disrupt your business.  

I would note an additional problem for kosher caterers.  In addition to ham and shellfish prohibitions (all of which are in the bible, by the way, so perhaps the photographer shouldn't take pictures at any wedding that has ham or shellfish), kosher caterers may not serve meat and milk dishes in the same meal and those products may not use even the same dishes.  And the dishes have to be washed in separate sinks and stored in separate cabinets.  Serving ham would ruin all the caterers dishes and cutlery for future kosher events.   Not just ham would be a problem,  cheeseburgers would be forbidden, and you couldn't have the guests use the same plates even for meat and dairy related foods.

A wedding photographer or cake maker, on the other hand, is simply doing the job they would do for any other wedding. They aren't being asked to use special equipment or ingredients.  They aren't changing anything they normally do.  What's different is they object to the addition or subtraction of one penis in the wedding party. 

For lgbt folks, this isn't about forcing Christian photographers to take pictures at their weddings.  It's about not being discriminated against by businesses based on their sexual orientation.  

Taking good wedding photos is an art.  An artist who hates the assignment he's given, won't produce good work.  A baker who thinks gay weddings are an abomination, might be distracted enough to put too much salt in the cake batter.   

I'm sure that the vast majority of gay couples do not want someone who hates gays to take pictures at their wedding.  Most gay couples will want to patronize gay friendly businesses anyway.  But in the case where someone lives in a remote community and there is only one photographer or one bakery, the issue arises.  But the key issues is the moral and legal point about discrimination and not serving people simple out of personal dislike, even if the dislike is somehow connected to religion.  This just sounds too much like, I'm not a racist, but  . . .

I might be a little more sympathetic to self proclaimed Christian photographers if they also refused to do weddings of people who were having sex before they got married, or if they continued violating any of the ten commandments - not respecting the sabbath, stealing, killing, not honoring their parents, coveting, say, as big a wedding as someone else, etc.  

On a much larger level, I would hope that people see issues like this as mere distractions from the really important threats to our democratic society - the power of corporations over Congress, through financing elections, resulting in their ability to pass legislation that further increases the power of corporations to the detriment of most other Americans.   Climate change.  Grossly unequal distribution of wealth (a result of all that corporate power over Congress.) 

As a side note, I did find a sermon that seems to have been widely distributed that does use the kosher caterer to raise questions about religious organizations being forced to comply with the Affordable Care Act.  I think that's a closer analogy, but there are still problems there as well. 


  1. They can decline to offer ham. What they cannot do is refuse to serve christians.

  2. The argument is twisted... a caterer doesn't have to sell ham because they do not regularly sell it but a baker must sell two grooms for a cake even though they never do. It might be a small difference but it is you that is making the distinction. All service establishments should be forced to serve all people if any must serve even one. In America it is called equal justice.

    1. Anon, Thanks for your comment. I think you're saying kosher caterers should have to serve ham if a baker has to put two grooms on the cake. If so, I think you're missing the point. The baker has lots of plastic grooms lying around. And they don't pollute his bakery. Putting two plastic depictions of men on a cake is not prohibited in the bible. But a kosher caterer has no ham (or shrimp or lobster or oysters) in his kitchen and if he did, it would pollute his kitchen and ruin his regular business of serving to kosher events. All these foods are specifically and explicitly prohibited in the bible.

      Your example could, I think, be easily remedied. The baker could tell the couple his dilemma and give them the cake with no grooms and let the couple put their own grooms or brides on the cake. But really, as I say in the post, most gay couples don’t want to hire anti-gay businesses. But there are situations where finding a gay-friendly business is hard and/or costly because, for example, they might live in a small town with only one photographer or baker nearby.

      The sticking point for both sides, I think, that underlies this issue is discrimination. Gays want to be treated like everyone else and not discriminated against because of their sexual preference. Believers of some religions argue that doing their normal business at gay weddings violates their religious freedom. And there are still whites who argue that the bible requires them to discriminate against blacks. And as I point out in the post, a much more fundamental Christian principle is the Golden Rule. For most Christians, it overrides the obscure passages that some people point out - usually people who ignore the prohibitions on eating non-kosher foods. To gays this seems like using the bible to justify prejudices, since those who cite the word abomination in relation to gays have no problem eating abominations like shrimp or bacon, which seems to me, much more a violation of God’s law, than putting two plastic grooms on a cake.

      If a baker were really uncomfortable, about serving at a gay wedding, he could say, respectfully, something like, “I’m very uncomfortable baking a cake for your wedding. I want you to know that. I’ll do it because it is the law, but I’d much rather not. I can give you the names of other bakers who have no religious conflicts serving gay weddings.” I’m pretty sure that 99.9% of the time the gay couple would agree and use one of the recommended bakeries. No one wants someone who hates them to serve the food at their wedding. The cases that went to court were attempts to establish that discrimination against gays is illegal, in the same way that Rosa Parks not standing on the bus for a white man was a situation chosen to make a legal point about segregation in the South.

      No one is arguing, though, that a priest who doesn’t believe in same sex marriage has to officiate at a same-sex wedding. That’s a different issue. Officiating at the wedding would be sanctioning a same sex wedding.


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